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The Public Health Law Center conducted an important interdisciplinary study of the leading self-regulatory programs for food marketing to children in the U.S.: the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) and the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). Drawing on both marketing and legal analyses, the study assesses the strengths and weaknesses of self-regulation as a tool for improving food marketing to children. The results of this study will be published in: Williams, Jerome D., Keryn E. Pasch, and Chiquita Collins, eds. (forthcoming 2012), Advances in Communication Research to Reduce Childhood Obesity, New York: Springer.
The first phase of the study evaluates the past performance of CARU, which has served as the principal self-regulatory body for all advertising to children since its inception in 1974. It has established guidelines and a large body of “case law” involving hundreds of child-targeted advertisements. CARU and its sponsors assert that self-regulation has a success or compliance rate of over 95% in resolving children’s advertising issues. However, objective evaluation of the program’s “success” necessarily depends on the strength of the standards being applied, as well as the definition of “compliance.” The second phase of the study analyzes the scope and significance of the CFBAI. The CFBAI is a more recent development, involving voluntary commitments by 16 major food marketers governing which products they will promote to children, and how. These companies have undertaken detailed, individualized pledges to limit their marketing to children under 12. Our analysis examines these marketing commitments and compares them to other model guidelines and best practice standards.
By illuminating the principal strengths and weaknesses of CARU and CFBAI, as well as the tensions between the two programs, this research provides essential grounding for the ongoing debate among policymakers, industry leaders and consumer advocates about what are reasonable expectations for self-regulation, and whether it is an adequate substitute for formal government regulation. The study was conducted by Julie Ralston Aoki, JD, in partnership with Dr. Elizabeth Moore, Associate Professor and Notre Dame Chair in Business, Mendoza College of Business, at the University of Notre Dame. It was made possible by a grant from the Healthy Eating Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.